Posts Tagged ‘Kuleana Lands’

Legislative Update (May 2013)

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

`Ano`ai kakou…  The legislature is about ready to wrap things up.  Here are some important legislation affecting Native Hawaiians that are still alive:

KULEANA LANDS

OHA submitted House and Senate concurrent resolutions to recognize kuleana lands as historical lands and urge the counties to support efforts to promote continued ancestral ownership of kuleana lands.

The House version (HCR5) passed out of its first committee hearing and is waiting to be heard in the House Finance committee.  The Senate version (SCR1) has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.  Both need to be heard before an April 12th deadline.  Last year, Senator Malama Solomon introduced this resolution as a personal favor to me.  This year, her Senate committee has killed the resolution by declining to schedule a hearing for it.  One has to wonder why someone who supported the resolution last year would now refuse to hear it.

OHA BUDGET

On March 8th, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means asked OHA to comment on the cuts to our budget bill (HB 222) by the House Finance Committee.  We let them know that we understand today’s economic situation doesn’t make it easy to decide how to the fund every State agencies.  Therefore, we didn’t oppose the proposed decreases at this time but we did urge the committee to restore OHA’s original request.

Some of the more serious decreases include cutting $268,860 over two years for educational enrichment programs.  This will probably mean that 269 less Native Hawaiian students will be receiving educational services.  Health improvement programs were cut $1,100,000, which may mean 960 less Native Hawaiians receiving Health obesity services and 1,030 less pregnant Native Hawaiian women receiving prenatal services.

HB 222 passed the Senate Ways and Means committee with amendments on April 1st, and all of the funds that were cut were restored.  The House now has to decide if they agree or disagree with the Senate amendments.

OHA PRIMARY

SB 3 proposes to establish a nonpartisan primary and general elections for OHA Trustees beginning with the 2014 elections.  On March 27th, OHA Trustees took a position opposing this measure.  On March 28th, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill with technical amendments.  The Senate now has to decide if they agree or disagree with the House amendments.

NATIVE HAWAIIAN ROLL COMMISSION

HB 252 would require the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, in cooperation with OHA, to submit annual reports to the Governor and the Legislature on the status of the preparation of a roll, expenditures, and any other concerns or recommendations.  It amends the definition of “qualified Native Hawaiian” to include individuals who meet the ancestry requirements of Kamehameha Schools and OHA.  It also repeals the directive in Act 195 to amend the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.  Senate Committee Chairs Clayton Hee and Brickwood Galuteria amended the bill by:

(1) Deleting the requirement that the Native Hawaiian Roll remain confidential;

(2) Clarifying that all individuals already registered with the State as verified Hawaiians or Native Hawaiians through OHA are included in the Native Hawaiian Roll and extending to those individuals all rights and recognitions conferred upon other members of the roll;

(3) Inserting language to promote renewable energy in Hawaii; and

(4) Inserting an effective date of July 1, 2013;

Aloha Ke Akua.

Aloha, Senators Inouye and Akaka

Friday, February 15th, 2013

`Ano`ai kakou…  My family and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Daniel K. Inouye.  There are no adequate words to express this loss.  Our hearts and thoughts are with Sen. Inouye’s family, his countless friends, and his dedicated staff members during this difficult time.  We will always be grateful and remember Senator Inouye for his 50 years of public service as a U.S. Senator.

I am also so very grateful for Senator Daniel Akaka’s 36-years of service in Congress.  Senator Akaka’s many years of service and dedication to all the people of Hawaii is an ideal example that all future leaders should strive toward.  Mahalo nui loa for all of your hard work over the past 12-years to establish a solid foundation for all Native Hawaiians to utilize as we finally restore our native sovereignty.

Legislative Leadership Changes

Congratulations to new House Speaker Joe Souki.  A change in the Speakership is long overdue and a welcome turn of events.  I wish him and his new leadership team well in this legislative session.

The sudden passing of Senator Inouye brought about many changes in local politics, especially in the leadership of the State Senate.  Senate Vice-President Donna Mercado Kim will replace former Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who became Lt. Governor.  Newly appointed Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran has filled the void left by Lt. Governor Tsutsui.

Kewalo Basin

A great concern for OHA this year are the proposed “finger piers” that will front our property at Kewalo Basin.  After OHA signed the agreement with the State to receive the Kakaako Makai lands at Kewalo, the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) informed OHA about the finger piers that had been promised to an earlier developer who had already spent a great deal of cash on the development of the harbor.

This poses a huge problem for OHA.  Placing piers in front of our Fisherman’s Wharf property and the adjacent waterways will seriously reduces the value of our land and takes away our rights to develop our own piers.  I will keep you posted on this issue.

Kuleana Lands

Recognizing Kuleana Lands as historical lands is one of my priorities for the 2013 legislative session.  Last year, the Senate passed out a resolution protecting Kuleana Lands, but the former House Speaker killed the House version.  Not sure why.

Public Land Development Corporation

The Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) is a state entity created by the Legislature in 2011 to develop state lands and generate revenues for the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The PLDC became a highly controversial issue in the past legislative session, but the good news is that all parties now agree the PLDC needs to be repealed or it has to be significantly amended to incorporate the changes that the public has been demanding.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Wrapping-up a historic year for OHA

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Congratulations to all of the public servants elected in 2012.  Campaigning can be a grueling process.  I look forward to working with all of you in the 2013 Legislative Session to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

New Maui Trustee and OHA CEO

OHA began the year by welcoming new Maui Trustee, Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, who was appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie.  Trustee Lindsey brought a much needed burst of new energy to the board with her knowledge, experience, and willingness to give her all for our beneficiaries.

OHA’s Administration underwent major changes with the appointment of Dr. Kamana’opono Crabbe as its new Ka Pouhana/CEO.  I have been impressed by his exemplary work over the past eight months and I look forward to the positive changes he will bring to OHA in the coming year.

Appointed BAE Vice-Chair & Served as a Legislative Liaison

I was honored to be appointed Vice-Chair of the Committee on Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE), one of only two subject-matter committees under the Board.  I worked closely with BAE Chair, Trustee John Waihe’e IV, on legislation and on-going programs.  I also continued to serve as one of two “Legislative Liaisons” appointed by Trustee Waihe’e for the 2012 legislative session.

Protecting Kuleana Land Property Tax Exemptions

On November 22, 2011, the Star-Advertiser reported that the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission recommended that the City & County of Honolulu eliminate property tax exemptions for about 150,000 Oahu homeowners, including Kuleana Land owners.

On January 23, 2012, I testified before, the City Council’s Budget Committee hearing on the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission’s Report.  I explained the heartbreaking history of Kuleana Lands and stressed to the Budget Committee Chair, Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, that OHA strongly opposed the proposal.  Thankfully, the matter was dropped (for now at least).  Upon Councilmember Kobayashi’s recommendation, I worked to get the State Legislature to pass a resolution supporting the protection and preservation of Kuleana Lands.

On April 10, 2012, the State Senate adopted Senate Resolution (SR) 33 which urged the counties to preserve property tax exemptions for Kuleana Lands.  I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Senator Malama Solomon who introduced SR 33, and Senators Brickwood Galuteria, Gilbert Kahele, Donovan Dela Cruz, and Michelle Kidani for signing onto the resolution.  I would like to give a big Mahalo to OHA staff members Breann Nu’uhiwa, Sterling Wong, Jim McMahon & Luci Meyer for all their efforts to get this resolution passed.

I would also like to send a special Mahalo to Representative Faye Hanohano for introducing the House versions of the resolutions, HCR 117 & HR 89.  However, Speaker Calvin Say killed both resolutions in the Finance Committee so we need to try again next year.

Settlement Bill Passes

On April 11, 2012, in an emotional ceremony at Washington Place, Governor Abercrombie signed the historic $200 million settlement between the State and OHA.  After many years of negotiations, OHA finally resolved all claims that were raised with the State relating to its portion of income from the public land trust from November 7, 1978 to June 30, 2012 on past due amounts owed.  The State has now fulfilled its constitutional obligations to Native Hawaiians by providing OHA with fee simple title to lands in Kakaako makai.  The proposal will not affect any other claims against the state.

Happy Thanksgiving

May each and every one of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving full of wonderful food, family and friends.  Aloha Ke Akua.

2012 Legislative Wrap-up

Monday, May 14th, 2012

`Ano`ai kakou…  Congratulations to all OHA Trustees and staff members for all of their dedication and hard work in getting the OHA/State Settlement agreement passed into law.  The 2012 legislative session will surely be remembered as one of OHA’s most successful.

Legislative Liaison

As Vice-Chair of the Committee on Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE) and one of two “Legislative Liaisons” for the 2012 legislative session, I had the distinct pleasure working closely with Senators Malama Solomon, Clayton Hee, and Brickwood Galuteria and Representative Faye Hanohano on issues relating to the Settlement and the preservation of Kuleana Lands.

Kaka’ako Makai

Senate Bill 682 proposed to add value to two parcels of land that are among the lands in Kaka’ako Makai that the OHA/State Settlement (Act 015) conveys to OHA.  The right to develop residential structures on these two lots would add significant value and provide much needed revenue for our Nation.

On April 5, 2012, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that SB682 was likely dead in the House.  However, the Senate’s Ways and Means and Judiciary and Labor committees added similar language into a related bill that had already passed the House — HB2819 — so the language for SB682 could still be heard in conference committee.  HB2819 did not pass out of its conference committee before the end of session on May 3rd and will need to be revisited in the next legislative session.

Protecting Kuleana Land Property Tax Exemptions

On November 22, 2011, the Star-Advertiser reported that the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission recommended that the City & County of Honolulu eliminate property tax exemptions for about 150,000 Oahu homeowners, including Kuleana Land owners.

On January 23, 2012, I testified before, the City Council’s Budget Committee hearing on the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission’s Report.  I explained to the members of the committee the heartbreaking history of Kuleana Lands and stressed to the Budget Committee Chair, Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, that OHA strongly opposed the proposal.  Thankfully, the matter was dropped (for now at least).  However, upon Councilmember Kobayashi’s recommendation, I worked to get the State Legislature to pass a resolution supporting the protection and preservation of Kuleana Lands.

On April 10, 2012, the State Senate adopted Senate Resolution (SR) 33 which urged the counties to preserve property tax exemptions for Kuleana Lands.  I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Senator Malama Solomon who introduced SR 33, and Senators Brickwood Galuteria, Gilbert Kahele, Donovan Dela Cruz, and Michelle Kidani for signing onto the resolution.  I would like to give a big Mahalo to OHA staff members Breann Nu’uhiwa, Sterling Wong, Jim McMahon & Luci Meyer for all their efforts to get this resolution passed.

I would also like to send a special Mahalo to Representative Faye Hanohano for introducing House versions of the Kuleana Lands resolutions, House Concurrent Resolution 117 & House Resolution 89, and getting them approved by the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee.  However, both resolutions did not get a hearing in the House Finance Committee despite my repeated requests to its Chair, Rep. Marcus Oshiro.  Neither resolution called for any money to be appropriated so the question is why were they even referred to the House Finance Committee? Aloha Ke Akua.

Preserve Kuleana Land property tax exemptions

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

February 2012 KA WAI OLA COLUMN

`Ano`ai kakou… After four years of countless meetings with City officials and testifying before an endless parade of committees, Kuleana Lands finally became exempt from real property taxes on Oahu in 2007 and it is now known as Revised Ordinances of Honolulu Section 8-10.32 Exemption—Kuleana land.

Native Hawaiian families who had been caring for their Kuleana lands for generations are now protected from sky-rocketing property taxes because of luxury resorts and shopping malls being built around them. If the exemption didn’t pass when it did, more Kuleana lands would have fallen out of Hawaiian hands.

Since most of the Kuleana lands were carved up, taken away or abandoned, the impact on tax revenues was predicted to be extremely minimal so OHA argued that there should be no reason why the ordinance shouldn’t pass. This has in fact been proven to be the case.

According to the Star-Advertiser (Nov. 14, 2011) there were 37 Kuleana Land parcels on Oahu receiving a property tax exemption for Fiscal Year 2011-2012, which cost the city $91,000 in taxes. Given its tragic history, I believe this is a very small price for the City to pay in order to preserve the last of Oahu’s Kuleana Lands.

Establishing the property tax exemption for Kuleana Lands on all islands has been the most important accomplishments for us in 10-years. We must do everything that we can to protect against taking away this right that should have been grandfathered into the law in 1898 and again in 1959.

The City & County of Honolulu also sent a strong message to the Native Hawaiian community that it was knowledgeable of Hawaiian history and was sympathetic and supportive of Hawaiian causes. The City helped to put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Oahu Kuleana lands over the past 150-years.

This truly momentous piece of legislation eventually paved the way for the three neighbor island counties to establish similar property tax exemptions for their Kuleana Lands. It was a relief to finally know that the very last of the Kuleana Lands that were able to survive would be protected and kept in Hawaiian hands. Or so I thought…

On November 22, 2011, the Star-Advertiser reported that the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission (created by the City Council and headed by Lowell Kalapa – the only person to testify against the property tax exemptions for Kuleana Lands) is recommending that the City & County of Honolulu eliminate property tax exemptions for about 150,000 Oahu homeowners, including the blind, elderly and disabled. It is also proposing that the exemptions for charitable organizations, credit unions, schools, churches and other groups be abolished or significantly reduced. Their goal is to provide tax relief that is more connected to a landowner’s ability to pay rather than giving exemptions based on a particular category.

The biggest danger is that only three of the current City Councilmembers were in office in 2007 (Ann Kobayashi, Nestor Garcia, and Romy Cachola). Most of the City Council is unaware of the history of Kuleana Lands and will have to be briefed all over again. By the time this article is published, I will have testified before the City Council on behalf of Kuleana Land owners. It should be noted that while the State negotiates with OHA for unpaid ceded revenues, the City, which is in possession of ceded lands as well, has NOT paid a dime to Hawaiians for the lands that they have in their inventory.

Thankfully, the Star-Advertiser (November 14, 2011) also reported that since five of the nine Council seats are up for election this year, there is only a slim chance that the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission’s controversial proposals will pass.

Let us make absolutely sure that this is the case.  Please contact your City Councilmember and let them know that property tax exemptions for Kuleana Lands must be preserved.

City Council Votes to Exempt Kuleana Lands from Property Taxes

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA

Source: May 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  After four years of countless meetings with elected officials and testifying before an endless parade of committees, Kuleana Lands are finally about to become exempt from real property taxes on the island of Oahu.

On April 11, 2007, the Honolulu City Council unanimously passed a bill that would establish a real property tax exemption for Kuleana Lands.  It now has 10 days (at the writing of this article) for the Mayor to sign it into law.  Since the Mayor’s administration testified that they support the bill, it is all but certain this will happen.

First of all, I would like to thank each and every member of the Council for their support of the Kuleana Land owners.  Their unanimous vote sends a strong message to the state that they are both understanding and sympathetic of Native Hawaiian issues.

I am deeply indebted to Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz.  He immediately saw that passing an exemption was the right thing to do after listening to the sad history of Kuleana Lands and the current crisis of the lineal landholders.  He quickly introduced the bill and remained a strong advocate for its passage.

I am also extremely thankful to Budget Committee Chair, Councilman Todd Apo, for his steadfast and strong leadership in helping to get the bill over many of the stumbling blocks that plagued it last year and prevented it from passing.  Councilman Apo used his knowledge of the issue to shepherd the bill all the way through to its final passage.

This is truly a momentous piece of legislation for Native Hawaiians.  I encourage all owners of Kuleana Lands who are lineal descendants of original title holders to apply for the exemption as soon as the City and County announces the application procedures, hopefully in the next few months.

Kuleana Land owners should use this time to make sure the names on their property title are current and completely up-to-date.  If the City’s property assessment department can’t find your name as the title holder, you will be forced to get a court order to prove your ownership.  Avoid any delays and extra expenses by clearing up any confusion on your property title now.

I now plan to approach each of the three remaining counties to pass similar legislation for Kuleana Land owners on the neighbor islands.  Within a year, I will finally have the hard data I need on the potential impact of the exemption by using Oahu as an example.  This will help make passing similar bills in Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai counties much easier.

I believe that we have finally helped to put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands over the past 150-years, at least on Oahu.  Now, the very last of the Kuleana Lands that have survived can be protected and kept in Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will only help to preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

Kudos to the Honolulu City Council for making this a reality.  I look forward to future opportunities to partner with them as I continue to work for the betterment of our Hawaiian Community.  Mahalo nui loa.

Kuleana lands must be saved

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA

Source: March 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  One issue that has been near and dear to my heart over the past few years is passing a law that would exempt Kuleana lands from property taxes.  Hawaiian families, who have been caring for their Kuleana lands for generations, are now facing sky-rocketing property taxes.  They could end up losing everything if something isn’t done soon to offer them some sort of tax relief.

A brief history of Kuleana Lands:  In 1848, as a result of the Mahele, all land in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was placed in one of three categories:  Crown Lands (for the occupant of the throne); Government Lands; and Konohiki Lands (Kuleana Act, 1850).  (www.kumupono.com)

After native Hawaiian commoners were granted the opportunity to acquire their own parcels of land through the Mahele, foreigners were also granted the right to own land in 1850, provided they had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Hawaiian Monarch.  In order to receive their awards from the Land Commission, the hoa‘aina (native tenants) were required to prove that they cultivated the land for a living.  They were not permitted to acquire “wastelands” (e.g. fishponds) or lands which they cultivated “with the seeming intention of enlarging their lots.”  Once a claim was confirmed, a survey was required before the Land Commission was authorized to issue any award.

The lands awarded to the hoa‘aina became known as “Kuleana Lands.” All of the claims and awards (the Land Commission Awards or L.C.A.) were numbered, and the L.C.A. numbers remain in use today to identify the original owners of lands in Hawai‘i.  By the time of its closure on March 31, 1855, the Land Commission issued only 8,421 kuleana claims, equaling only 28,658 acres of land to the native tenants (cf. Indices of Awards 1929).

According to the Overview of Hawaiian History by Diane Lee Rhodes, many of the kuleana lands were later lost.  The list of reasons include:  (1) Native tenants mostly received lands that lacked firewood or were too rocky and unsuitable for farming.  (2) A number of kuleana were sold by dishonest land agents before the farmers could get a survey.  (3) The land commissioners delayed getting notices to landholders.  (4) Prices were out of reach for commoners.  (5) Finally, foreigners evicted legitimate kuleana owners without due process.

Since most of the Kuleana lands were carved up and taken away or abandoned, the impact on tax revenues would be extremely minimal so there should be no reason why this legislation shouldn’t pass.

This year, the bill got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs (WAH) committee chairman, Senator Russell S. Kokubun.  Unfortunately, the bill was deferred due to concerns that the bill might be unconstitutional.

I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council.  The bill is being spearheaded by Councilmember Todd Apo.  The first hearing for the bill will be February 28th.

If you or someone you know is living on Kuleana lands and are descendent of the original owners, I implore you to consider testifying.  We must put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands for the past 150-years once and for all.  If something is not done soon, the very last Kuleana lands that have survived will finally fall out of Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will help preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.  If you would like a copy of the bill e-mailed or sent to you, please contact my office.

2006 Legislative Wrap-up

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA

Source: June 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  I had high hopes of a productive legislative session back in January, but my hopes were dashes by mid-session when several bills that were dear to me died in committee.  Here is a brief run-down of three bills that I strongly supported:

Interim Revenue.  Senate Bill 2948 establishes the amount of interim revenue to be transferred to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from the public land trust, each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2005-2006, at $15,100,000.  The bill also appropriates $17,500,000 as the amount of revenues owed to OHA for the underpayment of OHA’s pro rata share of the public land trust revenues between July 1, 2001 and June 30, 2005.  As of this writing, the bill is awaiting signature from the Governor to be enacted into law.

OHA Retirement Bill.  SB916 would have allowed trustees with at least five years of service with the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) to buy-back credit for their prior service.  SB 916 was just a housekeeping measure that would correct an oversight in a previous bill passed in 2002.  Unfortunately, for the past three years, the ERS board, through its Administrator, has lobbied the House not to pass the bill.  For this reason, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Scott Saiki, refused to even give the bill a hearing.

Property Tax Exemption for Kuleana Lands.  SB914 would have exempted Kuleana lands from real property taxes if the land has been continuously occupied by the original titleholder.  Commercial developments have led to sharp increases in taxes on real property, including Kuleana land, throughout the State.  These increases have adversely affected many Hawaiian families who live on kuleana lands because they are unable to pay for the taxes.  Hawaiian families living on kuleana land now face the loss of their land and legacy that took generations to establish and must confront the possibility of homelessness.

SB914 got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committee chairman, Senator Colleen Hanabusa, but the bill came up one-vote short of passing.  I tried to convince Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who voted “no,” to change her mind and support the bill.  Unfortunately, she refused to budge from her position that we should first get each county to agree to it.

I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council.  Bill 25 was introduced on March 15, 2006 and was passed unanimously by the Council’s Budget Committee on April 26, 2006.  It is scheduled to be heard and voted by the full Council on May 17th

Ceded Land Revenues.  HB 459 would have clarified the lands comprising and the revenue derived from the public land trust under the state constitution and what is owed to OHA.  Like in past sessions, this bill went no where.  Ever since 2001, when Act 304 was repealed, OHA has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would reestablish the continued funding of OHA from ceded land revenues.  We almost got the bill passed in 2003.  It was passed unamended in the Senate but died in the House Finance committee after the committee changed the bill to leave out money from improvements to the land.

As the campaign season heats this fall, I ask that you question the candidates in your district about their positions on important Hawaiian issues.  It’s time to take a stand against politicians who patronize Hawaiian issues with meaningless words and no positive action.  Politicians like Representative Scott Saiki, who are influenced by lobbyists instead of their constituents, don’t deserve to be re-elected.  In the last election, Rep. Saiki won by only 5,006 votes, while OHA trustees typically win with over 100,000 votes from all voters (not just Hawaiians) state-wide.  It should be obvious who really represents the people.

Let’s remind all elected officials that our issues are important and should never be pushed aside and ignored.  Hawaiians make up 20% of the population and in the last several elections have had a high voter turn-out rate of 75%, despite the fact that Hawaii has one of the lowest voter turn-out rates in the country.  This should be a wake-up call for all elected officials that Hawaiians are aware of their political power at the ballot box.  Imua e Hawai’i nei…

Why we need to save Kuleana lands

Saturday, April 15th, 2006

By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA

Source: April 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  One issue that I have really pushed hard for at the state capitol is a bill to exempt Kuleana lands from property taxes.  Many Hawaiian families, who have been caring for their Kuleana lands for generations, are now facing sky-rocketing property taxes because of luxury resorts and shopping malls being built next-door.  The issue first came to my attention several years ago when a family came to OHA and asked that we take custody of their Kuleana land until they were able to save up enough money to pay off their back taxes.  If something isn’t done soon, more Kuleana Lands could fall out of Hawaiian hands.

A brief history of Kuleana Lands:  According to Kumu Pono Associates LLC’s website (www.kumupono.com), in 1848, as a result of the Mahele, all land in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was placed in one of three categories:  Crown Lands (for the occupant of the throne); Government Lands; and Konohiki Lands (Kuleana Act, 1850). 

Ownership rights to all lands in the kingdom were “subject to the rights of the native tenants;” those individuals who lived on the land and worked it for their subsistence and the welfare of the chiefs (Kanawai Hoopai Karaima… {Penal Code} 1850:22).  The 1850 resolutions in “Kanawai Hoopai Karaima no ko Hawaii Pae Aina,” authorized the newly formed Land Commission to award fee-simple title to all native tenants who occupied and improved any portion of Crown, Government, or Konohiki lands.

After native Hawaiian commoners were granted the opportunity to acquire their own parcels of land through the Mahele, foreigners were also granted the right to own land in 1850, provided they had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Hawaiian Monarch.  In order to receive their awards from the Land Commission, the hoa‘aina (native tenants) were required to prove that they cultivated the land for a living.  They were not permitted to acquire “wastelands” (e.g. fishponds) or lands which they cultivated “with the seeming intention of enlarging their lots.”  Once a claim was confirmed, a survey was required before the Land Commission was authorized to issue any award.

The lands awarded to the hoa‘aina became known as “Kuleana Lands.” All of the claims and awards (the Land Commission Awards or L.C.A.) were numbered, and the L.C.A. numbers remain in use today to identify the original owners of lands in Hawai‘i.  By the time of its closure on March 31, 1855, the Land Commission issued only 8,421 kuleana claims, equaling only 28,658 acres of land to the native tenants (cf. Indices of Awards 1929).

According to the Overview of Hawaiian History by Diane Lee Rhodes, many of the kuleana lands were later lost.  The list of reasons include:  (1) Native tenants mostly received lands that lacked firewood or were too rocky and unsuitable for farming.  (2) A number of kuleana were sold by dishonest land agents before the farmers could get a survey.  (3) The land commissioners delayed getting notices to landholders.  (4) Prices were out of reach for commoners.  (5) Finally, foreigners evicted legitimate kuleana owners without due process.

Since most of the Kuleana lands were carved up and taken away or abandoned, the impact on tax revenues would be extremely minimal so there should be no reason why this legislation shouldn’t pass.  Unfortunately, both the House and Senate Kuleana land bills went nowhere this session.  The House refused to even hear the bill despite my pleas to the Committee on Hawaiian Affairs chairman, Representative Scott Saiki.

The bill got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committee chairman, Senator Colleen Hanabusa, but the bill came up one vote short of passing.  I met with Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who voted no on the bill, to try to convince her to support the bill, but she insisted that we should go to each county and ask for the exemption individually, which makes no sense.  Why should we go to each county when one bill passed by the legislature can make the exemption law for the entire state? 

I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council.  Bill #25 was introduced on March 15, 2006.  If you or someone you know is living on Kuleana lands and are descendent of the original owners, I implore you to consider testifying.

We must put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands for the past 150-years once and for all.  If something is not done soon, the very last Kuleana lands that have survived will finally fall out of Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will help preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

Wrapping-up 2005

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, December 2005

‘Ano’ai kakou… Another challenging year for OHA has comes to an end. As we look forward to the coming year, I’d like to take this time to reflect on issues and events from the past year.

STATE LEGISLATURE

Although OHA was able to help Na Pua Noeau, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, and Alu Like, Inc. boost their budgets, several of our most important bills ended up dying. For example, ever since 2001, we’ve tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would reestablish the continued funding of OHA from ceded land revenues. The Legislature needs to define, once and for all, the revenue stream from public trust lands that is to be given to OHA for the benefit of Hawaiians.

We must also do something to save our Kuleana Lands. For the past two years, I have submitted bills that would exempt Kuleana lands from real property taxes if the land has been continuously occupied by the descendants of the original titleholder. I am determined to give struggling Hawaiian families living on kuleana lands the tax relief they desperately need to hold on to their homes and legacy.

FISCAL

I brought up two concerns when Goldman Sachs and Frank Russell were hired to serve as OHA’s two financial managers on January 16, 2003. First, I felt that their fees were too high. Secondly, I argued that we should hire an independent consultant to make sure they were doing their jobs. Unfortunately, OHA’s leadership at the time didn’t agree with me and the contracts were approved. I finally got some vindication when State Auditor Marion Higa came out with her April 2005 audit of OHA and found that our money managers’ fees were too high and that we should have hired an independent consultant to help us evaluate them (which still has not occurred).

OHA POLICY

For years now, I have been calling for OHA to create a Land Division to be headed by a “Land Konohiki,” an expert specializing in land acquisition, management, and investment and ceded land claims. The Land Konohiki would be able to quickly consider private lands for acquisition. The Administration is now beginning to look at addressing this concern.

Also, back in April, I strongly opposed a proposal to establish two censors to control what trustees could print in their Ka Wai Ola columns. Thankfully, this threat to free-speech was quickly dropped after I brought up my concerns in an editorial to the Honolulu Advertiser and in my Ka Wai Ola Column. While the Chairman has publicly stated that there was no attempt to implement the censors, I have a copy of the written recommendation that was given to the trustees.

LAWSUITS

We made some progress in the Arakaki Lawsuit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ denied the Arakaki plaintiffs any standing regarding the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and ceded land revenues. That just leaves OHA’s matching funds from the state, which I feel is pretty ridiculous since we are a state agency.

I was most disappointed by the October lawsuit filed by Virgil Day, Mel Hoomanawanui, Josiah Hoohuli, Patrick Kahawaiolaa, and Samuel Kealoha, Jr. against OHA. They want OHA to stop serving Hawaiians with less than 50% blood through programs such as Na Pua No’eau and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. They also want us to stop supporting the Akaka bill. When will we learn that a people divided cannot stand? The only people that will gain from our bickering are those who do not want to see Hawaiians prosper in their own homeland.

FEDERAL RECOGNITION

We learned in late July that the previously unheard of Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i, led by Richard Rowland, had joined Thurston Twigg-Smith and H. William Burgess in opposing the Akaka bill. These people fed Congress false and misleading information in an effort to confuse the issue. They say that they are fighting for equality, but I believe they are really motivated by racism.

Urgent matters, such as Hurricane Katrina, ended up postponing the Akaka Bill. As of this writing, OHA is planning to lobby the Senate in the week before Thanksgiving. I believe it will be our last chance to get the bill passed this year.

ELDER CARE

On a positive note, I was very pleased that on June 23, 2005, the Board of Trustees approved a grant of $300,000 to help fund the Kupuna Continuing Care Assurance Program which will be administered by Lunalilo Home over the next two years. The program is designed to help make residential care, respite care, adult day care, and outreach nutritional services more affordable for Native Hawaiian kupuna.

Your prayers and guidance, for those of us in hardship in 2006, will help to make our journey successful. May the Lord bless and keep you all safe this holiday season. Aloha pumehana.